Entering kindergarten is an exciting time, but it can be an anxious one, too. Is your child ready for the transition? Are the other kids readier? Are they more mature? Can they sit still for circle time? Do they know the alphabet and the sounds the letters make? Should you redshirt or delay kindergarten?
Many parents have these types of worries. But what if you think your child might lack the skills for kindergarten? What if your child also has issues with paying attention or learning? In that case, the start of kindergarten can be extra stressful. The more information you have, the better able you’ll be to make the transition as smooth and as successful as possible.
Here are answers to common questions parents have about kindergarten readiness.
1. What skills should my child have by the time kindergarten starts?
Children, especially young ones, develop at different rates. Even so, there are certain skills they’re expected to have when they enter kindergarten. For example, they should be able to follow two-step directions, count from one to 10 without skipping numbers, pay attention for at least five minutes when an adult is talking and recognize and try to write their own name.
Not having all these skills by kindergarten isn’t necessarily a reason to be concerned. Some children might just need more time to catch up, especially if they’re young for their grade. But if you’re worried about your child’s development, take notes about what you’re seeing and share them with your pediatrician.
2. What should I do if my child is far behind the other kids entering kindergarten?
It depends on what you’re seeing and what you mean by “far behind.” If your child is still working on skills that others in the pre-K class have mastered, it may just be a matter of being slower to develop. Young children can progress in great leaps in a short time. See what happens between the end of pre-K and the first few months of kindergarten. Talk to the teacher about how your child’s classroom performance and skills compare to those of other kids.
3. Is it possible for a child this young to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
It’s not typical for a child to be diagnosed in preschool. Since young children develop at different rates, what looks like ADHD may just be a matter of maturity. That doesn’t mean preschoolers can’t have ADHD, however. If lack of self-control is extreme and puts that child or the other children at risk, it’s important for parents to talk to their pediatrician about possible causes, including ADHD.
Age can be a big factor, too. Keep in mind that there can be up to a year’s age difference among students in kindergarten. At that stage of development, even small age differences will account for a wide range of social and behavior skills and academic readiness.
Children who are young for the grade may naturally show behaviors that are less mature than those of their classmates. Some may be identified as having ADHD symptoms. If your child is young for kindergarten, see how the year progresses and be in regular contact with the teacher to monitor what’s happening at school.
4. How can I tell whether a kindergarten classroom is a good fit for my child?
Kindergarten classrooms can be busy, active environments that stimulate some kids and overwhelm others. If your district has multiple kindergarten classes, it might be helpful to request to observe them before summer break to get a better understanding of class options.
You can ask to meet with the principal to share your child’s strengths and needs, and how those needs match with available class placements.
5. What can I do if I think my child might need extra support in class?
Kids with learning and attention issues thrive in structured, predictable learning environments where there are established routines. They need direct and systematic instruction in all areas.
Kids also benefit from physical breaks throughout the day, multi-sensory instruction, hands-on activities and teaching approaches that take all types of learners into account. You can talk with your child’s teacher about whether they provide those resources.
6. How do I advocate for my child without seeming like an overprotective parent?
Parents know their child better than anyone. Use your observations and experiences to build a profile of your child’s strengths, needs and interests. Get to know the teacher from the very start of school and ask how you can be involved and helpful, either in class or at home. Find out the best way to communicate with the teacher so you can both regularly share information. Kids can benefit greatly when parents and caregivers actively partner with teachers, regardless of whether it’s perceived as being overprotective.
For more information, visit Understood.org.
Rayma Griffin, M.Ed., M.A., is currently an expert with Understood.org and educational consultant, advocating for the rights of children who have learning disabilities and ADHD. Griffin dedicated 40 years of her professional life to working with children with learning and attention issues, both in the classroom and as an administrator in the public and private sectors.